Confessions of an under-performing project manager

IMG_3265It’s mid-year review time, and this year they’ve renamed the levels and taken care to cascade training about it. It’s a “discussion” not a review, and that’s an important distinction. But still, there’s a diagram that looks like a dart-board with different bands wrapped around it and associated levels showing where you fit in.

The bull’s eye is called Successor. They are identified as bench for a specific position, as agreed upon by the hiring manager of that position. It’s the smallest point on the dart-board because that’s the fewest number of people who get in there.

Outside the bull’s eye, there’s a thin band that’s called High Potential: they’re also ear-marked to move up, but the difference between High Potential and Successor is that there’s a specific role, with Successor.

Then around High Potential, there is Well Placed, which is where I fit in this year.

Outside the dart-board is another small circle called Must Improve, and that’s the Shit List. I could have been put there this time, but wasn’t.

So this post covers some awkward work situations. If that makes you nervous, stop here and tune in next time, for Part-Time Blogger, Full-Time Ass, where I’ll share more.

I really didn’t mean that I could become a project manager when I took this on. OK, I took an exam for a professional accreditation and might have embellished on the eight hour application process, where it has you record in painstaking detail the number of hours you’ve spent in each phase of the project lifecycle for each project, with a signed affidavit from a person in your company who can attest you did just that, for each one.

And so I passed the test, and thought that meant I could be legit, I could throw down some quantitative risk analysis if anyone was interested and yeah, I at least understood the math behind Earned Value even if the only people interested in it were the military or companies serving them, selling weapons.

And so I landed the interviews aglow with the recent affirmation of the test, and the high points of my resume, how pleased I was to talk about it, and then I actually got the job, and that’s when things started to change.

I think before, I came from a land of knowing what was expected at work to one where I had to figure everything out. And while that may sound liberating and sensible to most, even evolved, it kind of freaked me out.

My first project was a feasibility study to see if we could get a POS software system sold-in to our 300 Licensed operations. About 300 different companies, buying software we’ve brokered to them after customizing it radically from the off-the-shelf, to incorporate into their systems. If you know anything about IT, you know how fucked up an idea that is.

At the same time, I had a project to change our minimum performance requirements for functional lighting. I still don’t think I can explain what that project was about, and I was on it for six months. At one point, I had a large piece of cardboard at my desk with Post-it notes corresponding to another diagram that detailed our Prototype to Production process, aptly named P3.

I kept the cardboard at my desk for a period of time until my boss’s boss came by one day and said Hey, get that out of here. I did and nothing changed, it didn’t really matter.

I got bored with those two projects because I didn’t know what to do, so I volunteered for a third, as if to prove my worth, to show I was doing something, give me another project, why not?

This was a systems project, the biggest one we ever did, called GBSS. I got one small leg of it, one of about 100 sub-projects, and it was to change the CSI cost codes our vendors use to bill us for line items on construction projects.

I was on fire with this project. The IT team wasn’t responsive to our inquiries about the schedule, and it was clear to me no one really understood what the tasks meant on the schedule, which told me it had to be rewritten.

I wrote an extensive email detailing the value of a well built schedule, how it had to be Realistic, Bought-in, Credible, and something else I can’t remember, which added up to an acronym from a class I took once about it, on schedules.

And so I set to rewriting the schedule to make it cogent, and then I pinned-down the IT guy who was a worm of a man, who never replied to my meeting invitations either way, so much so I had to confront him and say Look, I don’t mind if you don’t respond, just as long as you show up. And then I got him to agree to what was in the schedule, and that was that.

All this got me assigned to an even bigger IT project, which I had no business being on, called SIMS. My boss pulled me aside one day and said so, you’ve heard about SIMS?

And it was like some kind of prognosis that you’ve got something, something terminal, yet I was alit with the ego-glow that I could be assigned to such a project, and so I took a walk outside work smiling and strutting down the road, not knowing it was a death march, smiling at the faces in the windshield as they flashed by, thinking, I’ve got SIMS!

I did that for two years, and never knew what I was doing. Yet it seemed normal because many others on the project felt the same way too, they also didn’t know what they were doing, and it was like we were all riding in a bus somewhere to get slaughtered like lambs, like farm animals whistling out the windows, blank-eyed, nodding.

After that, I had a couple of “bridge projects,” designed to help me recover my reputation from SIMS, and assure my managers I knew what I was doing, and really could get something done.

One was to re-write the Master Services Agreement for our outsourced AOR’s: this project was two months behind schedule when I got it, and yet I delivered it on time, about five months later. Right after I closed it, they decided to re-write it again, and I think the project may still be going to this day.

The other was a real estate conference in Las Vegas, which I wrote about extensively here in a series called Going Back to Hell.

Around that time, I got a drive thru project. I held out hope that being closer to our front-line stores would motivate me, but I don’t think it ever did.

The first project was to redesign the casework and equipment layouts for the production area behind the bar in a drive thru store, requiring me to work with industrial engineers, Lean manufacturing types, designers, and other people I didn’t work with but should have, in hind sight.

I took on two more drive thru projects and it’s the third that really sunk me. It had IT tie-ins as well, and the emails just kept on coming. At one point, I selected about 40 unread messages from my IT PM and moved them to another folder, to see if anything would happen if I didn’t read them.

It’s funny, because when I go back to those emails now, I realize I probably should have read them.

I got to working with a new group of guys, and they were a kind of club. I should have seen the signs, to know it wasn’t going to work out, but didn’t. And that came up in my review, what little of it my boss could tell me about that was actionable, and wouldn’t make me feel bad, when we looked at the three categories of Engagement, Ability, and Aspiration, and talked about my trajectory, my path forward.

The cottonwood is falling now and I sit outside my back porch, staring into the trees, the cottonwood falling like snow, like a will-o’-the-wisp, and think like Sting wrote in his song, That’s my soul up there…





Categories: humor

Tags: , , ,

6 replies

  1. I did two things while reading this. One: I laughed to myself at “to see if anything would happen if I didn’t read them.” Two: I ate a piece of chocolate cream pie topped with real whipped cream. I think two is the solution to all your ones.


    • That’s cool. I listened to temporary like Achilles and drank beer whilst I wrote it. The origin and solution to all my woes. Happy Sunday to you mate!


  2. Couldn’t you just use your light sabre? And with one bound he was free!


  3. and i was dizzy with overwhelming angst while reading. i cannot even imagine this job, it is like having me live on mars. i am in awe of you even attempting it.


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